Hoover Dam

177

30 miles from the heart of Las Vegas lies the Hoover Dam. It is situated on Lake Mead, the largest reservoir (per volume) in the United States. When the Reservoir is full, at it’s deepest it can reach up to 1,200 feet deep which is just astonishing! I was surprised to see advertisements for scuba diving lessons on the drive to Hoover Dam but apparently it is a common activity, you can expect to spend $50-$100 for an introductory course at Lake Mead.

175

The Hoover dam lies on the border of Arizona and Nevada so it was kind of interesting to see two giant clocks on either side of the dam representing the different time zones. The dam itself was so beautiful. It is incredible to think about how man was able to build something so big and so strong (even in the crazy heat! It was at least 105F when we visited!).

145

Lake Mead

178

726 feet up!!

156

The Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge (AKA the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge)

164

This was before we were dripping in sweat. (TMI? It was July. In the desert.)

166

Love this monument! There was a big beautiful American flag at the top

We decided to do the Power Plant Tour which was $11 per person. It is not recommended for people which claustrophobia, which I never thought I had…until I took a 70 second elevator ride 530 feet into a big dam. I (being the doom and gloom person my husband knows I can be) thought of all the worst scenarios that could happen. I was waiting for someones pacemaker to stop working (not recommended for the tour), an earthquake to happen or the electricity to suddenly stop (are there even stairs?!). I became really anxious about half way through the tour and was pretty excited when it was over. All in all, it was a nice reprieve from the heat inside the air conditioned building (except deep down where it was fairly warm) and it was interesting to learn the history of the Hoover Dam. It is definitely a must visit if you are in the area.

IMG_2168

Not what I expected the inside of the dam to look like!

172

My Advice:

1. Try to get there early, especially in summer. It is SO HOT!

2. Park on the side with the visitors center. It is a long walk across the dam, especially when done in the middle of the day. Our one water bottle was hot water by the time we got to the other side.

3. You can’t get to Arizona from the Arizona side of the bridge. If there are no parking spots by the visitor center you have to drive across the dam to the Arizona side but to leave you must go back and drive over the Bypass bridge. Learned that the hard way!

4. Bring enough water. 1 is not enough for 2 people. We ended up splurging on $2 12oz water bottles in the store because we did not plan very well.

Las Vegas, Part II

It’s been awhile since I last blogged. Honestly, I had some post-trip blues. Every time I did something part of my of my daily life I would get this achy feeling in my soul, thinking, “I would rather be traveling.”  After the post-trip blues resolved I discovered that my PC with all my pictures on it from the trip had crashed. We finally got around to having it fixed, so here I am!

Las Vegas, Part II. I feel like I have nothing revolutionary to say. After 2 days in Vegas we hardly scratched the surface. But by reading this post I hope you can get some ideas at least of what to maybe not do in Vegas! 😉

What not to do:

1. Bring quarters with you to Vegas. I feel like I did research on Vegas but I felt silly when we got there with $40 in quarters to realize that all of the machines do not take change. They can take dollar bills but to “cash out” your earnings (*cough cough* or the money remaining after your losses) they give you a receipt to bring to a machine and that will give you the money. Maybe this is a no-brainer but it sure fooled us! So unless you are planning on visiting Freemont Street and some of the older casinos I would leave your change in your piggy bank.

IMG_2095

By only playing the penny machines and betting $0.03 per bet I left the slot machines with more money in my pocket 😉

2. Buy tickets ahead of time. Unless you expect that the show may sell out (i.e. it’s a special show or a weekend) I would wait until you are in Vegas to buy tickets. When I priced tickets to Blue Man’s group I was astonished to see that they would be more than $100 per ticket for decent seats. We ended up scoring 2 tickets for $40 (they came with a price though!—> see #3).

IMG_2110

Blue Man Group at Monte Carlo

3. Don’t see a timeshare for cheap Blue Man group tickets and a free dinner at the Venetian…unless you have a lot of time to spare and TONS of patience! More on this later!

4. Do not walk from one end of the Las Vegas strip to the other wearing “cute” sandals. You may end up with blisters on your feet. Just sayin’. Your hotel may look like it’s close…BUT IT IS NOT. Especially when some street crossings require you to go inside of one casino, walk a bit, take an escalator, walk some more, take another escalator and 5 minutes later you are on the other side of the street. I have to say, walking the strip was one of my favorite parts- being able to visit all the different casinos and see the different decor. However, my feet hurt SO bad by the time we got to the hotel and I was exhausted and dehydrated I’m sure for walking in the heat and humidity for an hour and half during the hottest part of the day.

IMG_2114

The beautiful Eiffel Tower at Paris

IMG_2103

From the bridge between the Venetian and Treasure Island

IMG_2102

Fresh and ready at the start of the day!

5. Try not to take a taxi, unless you can split the fare. A taxi ride at 11pm would have cost us $25 from the Bellagio to Treasure Island, but we were able to split the fare with 4 other riders in a van and spent $10. Next time we go to Vegas we are going to better take advantage of the free or low cost trams that go from casino to casino. We only took it once but it was quick and efficient.

So, on to our second day. We had a quick and expensive breakfast of Starbucks and then waited for our “2 hour” timeshare presentation. The promoters had found us at the Sirens of TI show the night before and convinced us to see a 2 hours timeshare presentation and we would get 2 tickets to Blue Mans group and dinner at the Venetian. They targeted us because we were married and stated that we owned a home. These promoters are easy to spot, as they will find you anywhere that there is a crowd on the strip. Note though–> It didn’t appear that they were very interested in non-married people because they aren’t their prime target for timeshares. There were multiple packages to choose from (such as free Mystere tickets + $40 cash back) but that is the one we liked.  We had to pay $50 up front and would get our gifts and $10 cash back at the end of the presentation. The van picked us up at 10:20, 2o minutes after they were suppose to. We ended up at a new timeshare resort at the end (or beginning?) of the Las Vegas Strip. We sat for about half an hour waiting for our names to be called before a kind couple asked us if we had filled out the form. Uh, no? Half an hour later we finally got started on the presentation part. This apparently was where the “2 hours” started. The first hour we wasted meant nothing. The presentation was convincing and made us feel like we wanted to buy one until we heard the price and started asking questions. Our representative was nice enough (a woman from Bulgaria) and with her words she said she didn’t want to pressure us, but she most certainly did with her actions when she invited her boss over to talk with us. I honestly have never felt so angry at a person I had just met. We told him we weren’t interested at this time due to finances, etc. and really just wanted the tickets. He continued to offer us lower offers though and basically said that we lacked common sense to pass up this “phenomenal deal.” Oh, but wait! “what if we lowered the price to this? Or this? Still no? Do you not understand what an amazing financial decision this is? If you pass it up it would be a terrible decision for your future,” etc., etc. Jake saw how angry I was getting with my red face and clenched fists and eventually said, “you’re pushing too hard, buddy.” He eventually stopped but not after making us feel like complete imbeciles and completely disgusted with their company. We were sure to give him a less than favorable review. 😉

All in all we sent about 4 hours on the whole timeshare deal. Granted, they fed us yummy “free” sandwiches and lemonade and we left with a better knowledge about what a timeshare means (still not convinced it’s a great deal). When it’s all said and done though I’m still not sure if it was all worth it. We got to see a phenomenal show (never actually made it to dinner at the Venetian) for $40 which is something that we could never have done otherwise-but we ended up having to spend half of our day listening to a boring presentation to do it. I think for us it probably worked out okay this trip, in the future though we will not spend our valuable time listening to boring presentations or being harassed by over-zealous salesman.

We got some pretty stellar seats- we were sitting in row D, seats that currently go for $135 A PIECE if you book online. The show was so worth it in the end. It was honestly one of the funnest hour and a half (ish) of my life! The blue men were SO talented! Both musically and comedically. They didn’t say a word the entire show but they conveyed so much with their facial expressions and gestures. If you don’t know what it is about here is a cool video (make sure you watch it at least until 2:15 in-that’s when it gets REALLY fun!!!)

IMG_2139 IMG_2143 IMG_2127

After the show we walked down to the Bellagio to watch the show, it was the only thing on our Vegas “to do list” that we actually did! It was so beautiful and definitely a must do when in Vegas! So here is a few lovely photos and video to end this post! Next time I will talk about our tour of the Hoover Dam in Nevada!

IMG_2145

129

140

Las Vegas- Part I

I had never been the type of girl who dreamt about going to Las Vegas. In fact, we decided to go to Vegas, more or less, because it was on our route anyways. I noticed though that as we got closer the excitement grew. After sleeping in cheap hotels, on a cot in a church and dorm-style bunkbeds I was looking forward to a little luxury (i.e. a real bathroom in the same room as the bedroom). We spent a night recharging in Barstow, California after leaving LA. We had to do one last touristy thing before we left LA though.

097

Hollywood Walk of Fame

IMG_2040

These are our “excited” faces because we were Vegas bound!

The drive from Barstow to Las Vegas was about 2 hours long and went by quickly. It was pretty neat driving past the Mojave Desert and it made for a pretty picture.

IMG_2046

IMG_2052

Mojave Desert, California

We stayed at Treasure Island after it was recommended by a couple friends. We got a screamer deal too, a king size bed with a view of the Las Vegas strip for less then $100 per night!

IMG_2066

18 floors up at Treasure Island Resort and Casino

IMG_2068

Not a bad view 🙂

Once we got settled into our room it was time to find some food. We didn’t have to venture far to find some stellar food at the Treasure Island Buffet. It would have been $35 per person but we scored a “buy one get one free” deal when we booked out hotel. I opted to try a little bit of everything: southern food, Greek (a first), Sushi (eww, another first) and some amazing desserts. Jake had more of a…focused palate. Meat. And potatoes and mac. And more meat.

IMG_2076

Jake and his steaks (honestly, he must have had at least 5 of them)

IMG_2075

About to try real sushi…it was gross. A fishy tasting California roll and some eel sushi!

We decided to walk around the strip for a little while to kill some time until our Cirque Du Soleil show, Mystère started. We happened to arrive before the Sirens of TI show started. The first half of the show I was not impressed. The dancers were super sexual and scantly clad- I understand it is Vegas but probably a quarter of the audience were children. The show got better though when the two ships began to “fire” at one another and it ended with a spectacular sinking of a ship and fireworks.

IMG_2087

Sinking of the ship

IMG_2091

Awesome fireworks post show

We were very excited to watch our first Cirque Du Soleil show. With out hotel package we also got 2 for 1 tickets to Mystère. Honestly, I watched the show and I’m not entirely certain what it was about. I think the theme is like “French carnival.” As we were looking for our seats in the first balcony area we were offered to be moved to the front row! The seats and view were incredible. As soon as the lights dimmed it was as if we were transported to another world. The only word I can think of to describe it was magical. There were various acts including acrobats, aerialists, two brothers that have a “strong man” hand to hand act (incredible!), aerial tissu (dancing on a piece of fabric hanging from the ceiling and doing various tricks) and a giant baby that kept showing up throughout the show which was surprisingly funny!

122

No photos allowed inside 😦

The show let out after 11pm and we decided to be party poopers and head to bed, completely exhausted but overwhelmingly happy. Stay tuned to hear how we spent our second day in Vegas!

-Valerie

Dream Center (Los Angeles)

Image

Dream Center (building use to be Queen of Angels Hospital)

Philippians 2:1-4
If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Last summer Jake volunteered at the Dream Center for a week, located in downtown Los Angeles, CA. And we was very eager for me to be able I join him this year. The Dream Center is an organization that was founded 20 years ago by pastor Matthew Barnett. His vision was to create a non-denominational church that would minister to drug addicts, unwed mothers, runaways, ethnic minorities, high school dropouts, at-risk youth and the homeless. Essentially, the “undesirable” population. He did not want another church that only wanted to witness to people about God’s love but a church and ministry that would SHOW God’s love. He wanted a church that actually CARED about people and wanted to help them create a better life, and in that way they would be able to see what Christ’s love is about.

The building itself use to be a hospital, Queen of Angels Hospital. It is located on 8.8 acres and has nearly 400,000 square feet. The building houses staff, short term mission volunteers, homeless and people going through their discipleship program. The discipleship program is a Christ-based rehabilitation program. They take people of the streets, help them get through the process of detoxing and getting off drugs. They teach them how to develop a relationship with Christ, get their GED, find a job, etc. They find any barrier that may be present and they show them how to overcome it.

Jake and I joined 12 other people from our church in Longview, WA to spend 5 days witnessing and serving at the Dream Center. It was an amazing and eye-opening experience. As a short-term volunteer we were able to help in a variety of ministries. The ministries varied from helping people move their furniture into a new apartment, bring food and supplies into peoples home who were at risk for having their children taken into Child Protective Services because they did not have the basic essentials to care for their children. Because of donations and the Dream Center the children were able to stay at home with their family and the Dream Center will continue to be involved in that families life.

One of my favorites was the Helping Hands clothing ministry. The room was set up like the Goodwill clothing section, racks and racks of clothing, shoes, belts, etc. The doors opened at 0830 but people began lining up before 0530 so they could have first pick. Women and children were allowed to pick any five pieces per person, all for free of course. Men were only allowed 3 items because there are fewer donations of men clothing. It was so humbling to be able to help with this ministry and to see the joy and smiles on the women and childrens faces when they were able to get some new (used) clothes. It definitely made me more aware of the things I take for granted.

I was able to help with the food truck ministry twice. We sorted food into smaller bags and were able to pass out essential food items to people in different neighborhoods. The lines of people would vary from 70 to 250+. We also worked with Kidz Jam; we played with the kids while their parents waited in line at the food truck. I had a lot of fun at this one, I played baseball with a little boy who was about 7. Well, I apparently played baseball with twins. I didn’t realize this until later after I had spent most of the day calling them the same name!

photo(24)

Apple juice and 2 loaves of bread

photo(23)

Bags of (6) tomatoes and frozen potatoes

Another ministry we worked with was “Under the Bridge.” They go out every day to provide a warm meal to the homeless population. We went to McArthur Park and another location which was close to Skid Row. The people we provided meals to were beyond greatful.

Another ministry that I really enjoyed was Adopt a Block. A new Dream Center was created in Long Beach, CA last year. The neighborhood is one of the poorest in the area and has a high population of Hispanics. It was a pretty fun day; we got play freeze tag with kids and let some feisty little girls paint our fingernails

photo(22)

My rainbow nails (and they were scented too! lol)

Jake nail polish

Jake couldn’t say no to a feisty 11 year old girl

It feels like there is so much I am missing and I don’t have the words or skills to adequately describe how amazing this organization is. I have never physically worked harder as I did during those days. Each day was exciting and busy and I felt like I was truly making a difference. It will be a week that I will never forget.

DC '13

City by the Bay ♥

A foggy summer afternoon

‘ A Foggy Summer Afternoon

I first visited San Francisco the summer of when I was 15, while on my way to Mexico on a mission trip. That visit consisted of stopping at a park and snapping pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge. The following spring while on a road trip with my family we made the same stop. I had never ventured into the city and had the opportunity to really experience what the City by the Bay was all about. It gave me a longing to return and spend some time there and do all the things I wanted to do such as ride a trolley, stroll on a bicycle over the Golden Gate bridge and tour Alcatraz island. The opportunity finally came for me to do all the things I wanted to do in San Francisco, as we were going to have TWO WHOLE DAYS in the city! Did I love the city? Parts of it. Did we have fun? Absolutely. Did I accomplish on the activities on my list? Not a darn one of them.

Somehow amongst all my researching and planning I forgot to book the Alcatraz tour tickets. Dang it! Well I guess we will have to book them when we get there. Online they were sold out, but a tour company had some tickets available still for walk ups…for $125 per person. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

We checked into our “affordable” hotel, the Hotel Astoria only to learn that it wasn’t as affordable as advertised ($70/night) because we then had to spend $30 to park in their parking garage which was across the street and on the other side of the block. It took us over an hour to go the 0.2 miles to the parking garage because we drove right past it twice in the backed up/rush hour traffic. The location of the hotel however, was perfect. It was located right next to the gates of Chinatown and in the heart of the downtown.

Image

Chinatown, San Francisco

We managed to figure out the bus system well enough to get ourselves to Fisherman’s Wharf. We ate some delicious chowder in a sourdough bowl at Boudin Bakery and walked along the pier watching performers and admiring the sunset.

photo(9)

Clam chowder in Sourdough bowls and pepperoni pizza on sourdough bread (it was amazing!)

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf

A beautiful evening at Fisherman'sWharf

A beautiful evening at Fisherman’s Wharf

View of Alcatraz from Fisherman's Wharf

View of Alcatraz from Fisherman’s Wharf (had a change in weather after dinner!)

It was getting dark so we decided to find a bus to get back to the hotel and return to the piers in the morning to explore more. An hour later we discovered that my new-found public transportation savvy-ness was a fluke as we could not find the correct bus. A $15 taxi ride later we were back in our hotel and, exhausted, we stayed in the rest of the night and watched the news. Pretty exciting, huh? 🙂

As mentioned earlier, the plan was to explore the city some more the next day. We decided though that one day would not be enough to do all that we wanted to do. We enjoyed what we had seen of the city so much that we decided we will come back when we have a long weekend and we will be able to devote more time to properly exploring the city.

Our next adventure took us to the beach, the artichoke capital of the world and and the garlic capital of the world. 😉

Until next time,

Valerie

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey.” Fitzhugh Mullan

 

Longview-San Francisco

Jake was eager to get on the road

Jake was eager to get on the road

What a crazy, busy last two days! We left our home in Longview, WA at 3 PM- just in time to get us stuck in the middle of rush hour traffic in Portland. 2 hours later we finally made it to the other side of Portland. Or original plan was to drive to Medford, OR (5-6 hours away) put we pushed on and arrived to Redding, CA around 1 in the morning. Our ghetto affordable hotel room was pretty hot so we didn’t fall asleep until closer to 3 AM and we were back at it bright and early.

Our hotel even had a pool! ;)

Our hotel even had a pool! 😉

There doesn’t seem to be too much to do in Redding, CA. We did find an awesome restaurant for breakfast, Deja Vu, where I tried eggs benedict for the first time 🙂 We checked out Sundial Bridge. It was a big sundial. On a bridge. It wasn’t terribly exciting but it was a nice walk.

002

Sundial Bridge over the Sacramento River

007

Sundial Bridge

 

Our plan at that point was to rush to San Francisco to make it in time for the Alcatraz night tour that I was suppose to have booked weeks ago. Oops. I really wanted to go to Napa, CA because of a quote I heard when I was 10 from The Parent Trap.

Hey, you're from California? 

Do you, like, live in Hollywood? Do you, like, live next door to a movie star? 

What are you two, Lucy and Ethel? 

I've never even been to Hollywood. 

I live in Napa. That's northern California. And I live next door to a vineyard. 

- A what-yard? - A vineyard. 

It's where you grow grapes to make wine. 

That's what we do. Me and my dad, we own a vineyard.
Vineyards in Napa, CA

Vineyards in Napa, CA

Hess Collection

Hess Collection

Napa was beautiful. We didn’t stop in the town but we had nice drive up Mount Veeder to visit Hess Collection winery for a tasting. Apparently on 0.4% of Napa valleys grapes for wine are grown on the mountain (really, a big hill). Because of the elevation it gets some of the cool air coming in from the bay so temperatures are cooler in the summer. In the cooler months it misses the frost as the moisture is heavy and sinks to the valley floor. Because of these factors the growing season is longer which gives the grapes more time to mature and it makes for a better wine.

Exploring the grounds at the winery

Exploring the grounds at the winery

The grounds at Hess Collection are absolutely stunning and the staff is incredibly nice. When they noticed Jake’s veteran hat they offered us both a free wine tasting which usually costs $10 a person. The wine was delicious and we left with 3 bottle in tow 🙂

Barrel Room

Barrel Room

Thanks for following us!

-Valerie